Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Head Girl Syndrome - the opposite of creative genius


The ideal Head Girl is an all-rounder: performs extremely well in all school subjects and has a very high Grade Point Average. She is excellent at sports, Captaining all the major teams. She is also pretty, popular, sociable and well-behaved.

The Head Girl will probably be a big success in life, in whatever terms being a big success happens to be framed (she will gravitate towards such aspects of life) - so she might in some times and places make a Good Marriage and do a great job of raising a family; in another time and place she might go to a top-notch college and get a top-notch job - and pursue a glamorous and infertile lifestyle of 'serial monogamy'; with desirable mates.

But the Head Girl is not, cannot be, a creative genius.


Modern society is run by Head Girls, of both sexes, hence there is no place for the creative genius.

Modern Colleges aim at recruiting Head Girls, so do universities, so does science, so do the arts, so does the mass media, so does the legal profession, so does medicine, so does the military...

And in doing so, they filter-out and exclude creative genius.


The genius is pretty much everything the Head Girl is not. He is lop-sided in his abilities - truly excellent at some things or maybe just one thing, he is either hopeless or bored by many others. He won't work hard for long periods at things he does not want to do. He will not gravitate to the prestige areas of life, or cannot or will not do the networking necessary to get-on.


The Head Girl can never be a creative genius because she does what other people want by the standards they most value. She will worker harder and at a higher standard in doing whatever it is that social pressure tells her to do - and she will do this by whatever social standards prevail, only more thoroughly.

Meanwhile the creative genius will do what he does because he must.


The Head Girl will not ever want to alienate potentially powerful allies.

Meanwhile the creative genius is indifferent or hostile to the opinions of others so long as he knows he is right.


The Head Girl is great to have around, everybody thinks she is wonderful.

Meanwhile the creative genius is at best a person who divides opinion, strongly, in both directions - at worst often a signed-up member of the awkward squad.


The more selective the social system, the more it will tend to privilege the Head Girl and eliminate the creative genius.

Committees, peer review processes, voting - anything which requires interpersonal agreement and consensus - will favour the Head Girl and exclude the creative genius. 

(Not least because committees are staffed by Head Girls, of both sexes, who naturally favour their own kind.)


We live in a Head Girl's world - which is also a world where creative genius is marginalized and disempowered to the point of near-complete invisibility.



fallot said...

Dr. Charlton there is an insight here which I think goes beyond the topic of genius. We live in a Head Girl world. We live in a complex world of high achieving managers, a tribe which props up its own. It is the result of complexity itself that this occurs. Nothing else would be workable and still remain as complex. That complexity itself is owed in no small part to creative genius however, and I find it incredibly ironic that this is what would choke genius off.

Di said...

Totally agree! Head Girls run the world, creatives change the world

Bryan Townsend said...

Of course the tricky thing is how to survive as a creative genius--or just a creative person generally.

Bernard Brandt said...

Or, if you will permit the use of a literary example that will probably annoy you, in order to illustrate the difference between Head Girl and Genius:

Hermione Granger vs. Harry Potter

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - A very good example (I am currently, delightedly, re-reading the Deathly Hallows for something like the fourth time).

Austin said...

" Since then I've had the chance, in the world of mathematics that bid me welcome, to meet quite a number of people, both among my "elders" and among young people in my general age group, who were much more brilliant, much more "gifted" than I was. I admired the facility with which they picked up, as if at play, new ideas, juggling them as if familiar with them from the cradle -- while for myself I felt clumsy, even oafish, wandering painfully up an arduous track, like a dumb ox faced with an amorphous mountain of things that I had to learn (so I was assured), things I felt incapable of understanding the essentials or following through to the end. Indeed, there was little about me that identified the kind of bright student who wins at prestigious competitions or assimilates, almost by sleight of hand, the most forbidding subjects. In fact, most of these comrades who I gauged to be more brilliant than I have gone on to become distinguished mathematicians. Still, from the perspective of 30 or 35 years, I can state that their imprint upon the mathematics of our time has not been very profound. They've all done things, often beautiful things, in a context that was already set out before them, which they had no inclination to disturb. Without being aware of it, they've remained prisoners of those invisible and despotic circles which delimit the universe of a certain milieu in a given era. To have broken these bounds they would have had to rediscover in themselves that capability which was their birth-right, as it was mine: the capacity to be alone."

-Alexander Grothendieck

Bruce Charlton said...

@Austin - That's it, exactly.

Omniro said...

The biggest successes come about when the 'Head Girl' and the 'Creative Genius' can form a mutually beneficial alliance. The head girl can get on with the administration and social elements required to sell the work of the creative.

Unknown said...

Nice insight. I like the term "Head Girl".

Creative genius is what is in demand, not Head Girls. Big stuff, cars, antibiotics, electricity, atomic bombs. DoD funds basic research, not because they expect any results, but if there is something, DoD gets it first.

These Head Girls never catch on that they are forgotten quickly in history, while some complete crazy loser can create works that live on indefinitely.

Samuel Claysey said...

Thanks. This blog made me feel better about the fact that I'm shoved in the corner but not for ability. :)